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Effective Leadership: How to Not Take Things Personally

11/07/2013 12:31 pm ET

Effective leadership is hard. It's a fine balance between making progress, managing expectations, and being heard. When it comes to receiving criticism from the boss or a co-worker, no matter how constructive it is, it can sometimes be hard to hear without getting defensive. Most advice given for handling this would be "don't take it personally." Personally, this advice makes me even angrier. Not take things personally? It was personal! I worked really hard and got this response? I have the right to feel angry about it! 

We aren't shown how to not take things personally because it's hard and most people aren't sure how. However, disengaging your ego from conversations can help you be lead more effectively. Here are some tips on how to do this the next time you feel like the world is conspiring against you.

Disarm by acknowledging their point of view

Have a boss that gets on your case about not doing enough? Or, do you feel like your competence is being questioned when you work hard on one thing but asked later why you didn't do something else instead? 

One thing to keep in mind is of course you're going to be asked questions, they're trying to understand what you did and how you did it. Instead of viewing it as a personal attack, find a grain of truth in their statements and verbally recognize it. For example, if a boss asks you "Why did you do ABC? Why didn't you do XYZ?" You can calmly reply, "I did ABC for the following reasons (state reasons). But in hindsight, I think you're right, XYZ would have been a good alternative and in the future that's what I'll do." The key is remembering that this doesn't mean you are necessarily agreeing with them, you are merely acknowledging. With deliberate practice, you will separate the perceived attack from you and, you will have taken the lead in the conversation, rather than letting the conversation drive your emotions. 

Don't expect people to read your mind or to know where you are at

The root of taking things personally is the expectation that people should know or do certain things, but reality does not meet it. If expectations are there and not met, it can be easy to feel wronged or disrespected and say, "Well he should know that..." 

It is a frustrating truth that no one "should" know anything and everything. That would be a fairytale if people could anticipate our every thought and every need. And, we all know that common sense is not so common. However, being comfortable with this will give us the courage to ask for what you want. It's a process that takes patience and persistence, but will make for less stressful times down the road because you have expressed yourself upfront. So, take charge of the situation by being prepared to remind others where you are with your progress or vision!

Seek to understand the other perspective

Defensiveness rises from assumptions about the unknown that are believed to be true. Before jumping to conclusions, ask questions to clarify where others' actions, inactions, or inquiries are coming from. If you really put an effort into this, you will find that it has nothing to do with you. Maybe the boss wants more sales or to conserve resources. Or, there is a series of personal events that you didn't know about that led up to them seemingly taking it out on you. Or, your colleague was trained to think a certain way and so it's hard for them to accept your point of view. By understanding their perspective, you'll realize that things don't happen to you, they just happen. 

Effective leading requires the fullest of presence and getting defensive takes away that from that. By acknowledging another's perspective, not assuming what you don't know, and seeking to understand will help build a presence that will draw both people and opportunities of growth to you.

Catherine Chen, Ph.D., is a speaker and Health Coach who believes that you are important, no matter what you achieve. She works with high-octane professionals to have a balanced lifestyle while being great on the job. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for tips every other week on finding balance at www.achievewitheasenow.com

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